Aphra Behn and the Odds

For me, one of the great things about having Aphra Behn as a role model is that it keeps me from indulging in complaints about my lot too much. Of course, we all need to gripe now and then to get things out of our systems, but whenever I want to blame my life or somebody else for how little I get accomplished, all I have to do is look at Aphra and I know I really don’t have any excuses.

Not much is known conclusively about Aphra beyond her plays and publications other than that she worked for the Crown as a spy in the Netherlands. A number of her letters begging the government to reimburse her for the money she’d spent on her mission have survived. After she returned to England in 1667, she may even have briefly landed in debtor’s prison because the government refused to pay what they owed her for her services. At this point, her father was dead and her mother probably as well, and in any case, her family does not seem to have been wealthy to start with. The most likely candidate for her father was a “barber-surgeon,” and while the woman he married came from minor gentry, she married beneath her. There is no indication among any of the Aphra’s writings or the writings of her contemporaries about her that she had any wealthy family to fall back on, as did most of the “scribbling women” who came before her, such as Katherine Philips or Margaret Cavendish.

Nonetheless, two years after her letters to the Crown begging for the money to keep her out of debtor’s prison, her first play, “The Forced Marriage,” was produced by the Duke’s Company at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. It was a great success and ran for six nights, providing its author with two nights’ income. (The “third day” always belonged to the author of the play.)

She definitely deserves the famous words of Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own:

All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, which is, most scandalously but rather appropriately, in Westminster Abbey, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds. It is she–shady and amorous as she was–who makes it not quite fantastic for me to say to you tonight: Earn five hundred a year by your wits.

The last couple of days, I’ve gotten an average of 25 pages a day revised in hard copy on Chameleon in a Mirror. I should be done by the end of the week. Then I have to get the changes into the file and start working on a cover. I may also be wanting to hire an editor to go through it one more time. But my goal is to get the novel up as an ebook at the very latest by the end of the year.

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5 thoughts on “Aphra Behn and the Odds”

  1. More fascinating history about Aphra Behn. Another woman writer I should read and read about. It’s sounds as though you are powering through the revisions; the up side of academic training, no? It’s been revised in your head three or four times already, before it ever sees the light of day!

    I’m embarrassingly behind on my blog visits, but I hope you have a good weekend!

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